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Oh Little Town of Bethlehem


English: "(...) Entry of Pilgrims into Be...

English: “(…) Entry of Pilgrims into Bethlehem at Christmas time. It was taken in 1890.” (text from same source) Note: At the source of this picture, several pictures portray Christmas in Bethlehem in 1898 (not 1890). This picture seems to be the only exception. It could be that the indicated date is actually a typo… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza ...

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 21st, our family will be gathering with others in worship for the seventh annual joint simulcast Christmas service with the people of Bethlehem at the Washington National Cathedral.

Prayers, readings, and hymns alternate between Washington, D.C., and Palestine via the Internet, bringing together people of different lands, languages, and ethnic backgrounds in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

In this age of turmoil and religious strife, it may be a surprise to some to know that Christians have religious freedom in Palestine and that Christmas and other Holy Days are celebrated vigorously!

The carol, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, was inspired by a pilgrim’s first visit to Bethlehem many years ago. This year it will acquire new meaning for me as we join in song with the “Living Stones”, as the descendents of the first followers of Jesus call themselves today. Let me encourage you to visit and attend church services in Palestine when you make your pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Inspiration awaits.

Learn more about the writer of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, Philip Brooks and his journey, below.

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/o_little_town_of_bethlehem.htm

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/HTML/christmas_classics_videos.htm#Chap_02

Did Jesus Suffer for This?


I’ve been wondering what God thinks about this whole Chick-Fil-A deal.  Only he knows the intent of Mr. Cathy’s heart. Was he asked a leading question that elicited his response? I don’t know. But, it sure gave Christians something to stand up for…something to fight for…but in gaining this ground, have they lost a more important bridge?

Sometimes I read a blog that addresses a subject I’ve been thinking about, and this one by my blogging friend, Anita Mathias in Oxford, UK is just such a one. Read on.

Christus als Schmerzensmann (Duerer)

Christus als Schmerzensmann (Duerer) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dreaming Beneath The Spires: Christians, Quit Being so Oppositional!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Christians, Quit Being so Oppositional!

Image Credit

So, on the 1st of August, on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day hundreds of thousands of Americans bought sandwiches from the popular fast food chain. Chick-Fil-A made $30 million on that day, to be donated to anti-gay groups.

Dan Cathy and his chain were being appreciated because they were “guilty as charged” of donating a cumulative $5 million dollars of corporate money to anti-gay groups, including the Family Research Council, called a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
And in my mind’s eye, I watch Jesus watch these snaking queues of Christians identify with him by buying these sandwiches, and I believe he is very sad.
Why do I believe this?
Because it makes me and so many other Christians cry. And Jesus when he sees us care—enough to give good gifts to our children, to look for a lost coin, or sheep or son–uses the same phrase, how much more would his father care.
5 million dollars for the project of changing people’s sexuality, a project with limited and dubious success, and to oppose  gay marriage and gay rights!!
Oh, how has the overwhelmingly positive message of Jesus—love one another; trust God; don’t worry, the Father cares; there is true life only in God; forgive aught against any—got reduced to being against gay marriage, against abortion, against gun control, against immigration, against Barack Obama, against the democrats?  Oh my fingers hurt just typing all this!
* * *
Five million dollars is both pocket change to God which he can give those who ask with a single good idea–and a significant sum of money.
It could sponsor 11,904 children for a year, providing them with food, education and clothing through World Vision at $35 a month. It can provide clean water to 250,000 people who might otherwise die young from preventable water-borne diseases, or spend many hours a day hauling water, exposing themselves to violence and sexual assault in the process. Nine year old Rachel Beckwith raised $1.2 million, providing clean water for 60,000 people in Ethiopa.
Because of early and unassisted childbirth, two million people suffer from fistulas.  “Women and girls with fistulas become pariahs. Their husbands divorce them, and they are moved to a hut at the edge of the village. They lie there in pools of their waste, feeling deeply ashamed, trying to avoid food and water because of the shame of incontinence, and eventually they die of an infection or simple starvation,” according to The New York Times.   Dr Steve Arrowsmith and volunteer doctors who work with the Fistula Foundation could heal 11,111 women for 5 million dollars
And if you believe, as I do, that man does not live by bread alone, but also by every word from the mouth of God, 5 millions dollars will pay for the translation of the entire Bible into 6.15 languages through Wycliffe Bible Translators’ The Seed Company (at $26 for a verse, painstakingly checked through a rigorous six step process). We’ve supported a small part of the Seed Company’s translations, and it’s very satisfying.
* * *
Which of these activities do you think is closer to the heart of Jesus?
Will funding anti-gay organizations make a gay person straight? Sexual desire stems from our unconscious limbic system and the autonomic nervous system. Attempting to change these is fraught with failure. Exodus International, (supported by Chik-fil-A) which attempts reparative, conversion therapy on gays, recently admitted that 99.9% of conversion therapy participants do not experience any change to their sexuality
And if they did? Is that what Jesus primarily came for? Called us to? To make gay people straight?
Or is his mandate that we follow him?
And, perhaps, in the process of following Christ some gay people might marry a heterosexual partner. And some might remain gay, but still love Christ.
 Lonnie Frisbee who was instrumental in the founding and flourishing of the Calvary Chapel Movement, and instrumental in the founding of the Vineyard when the spirit fell on hundreds of young people as he prayed, Come Holy Spirit was gay, despite his struggles, and died of AIDS.
The remarkable and saintly William Stringfellow was gay, and memorably wrote Can a Homosexual be a Christian? One might as well ask, can an ecclesiastical bureaucrat be a Christian? Can a rich man be a Christian?    Can anybody be a Christian? Can a human being be a Christian? All such questions are theologically absurd.
To be a Christian does not have anything essentially to do with conduct or station or repute. To be a Christian does not have anything to do with the common pietisms of ritual, dogma or morals in and of themselves. To be a Christian has, rather, to do with that peculiar state of being bestowed upon men by God….
Can a homosexual be a Christian? Yes: if his sexuality is not an idol.
                                           * * *
And when did following Jesus become synonymous with defending “traditional marriage?” Or disapproving of gays?
What did Jesus say for–or against gays? Nothing!!
His message was love. His message was Himself. Come to me. Eat me. Drink me. Abide in me.
And what happens when we do so? That’s his business. He will take each of us through different paths.
And so there will be rich Christians and poor Christians.
Republican Christians and Democratic Christians.
Christians who cheered on George Bush as he bombed Afghanistan and Iraq, and people like our family who were so distressed by it that we immediately started applying for jobs in other countries.
Gay Christians perhaps, and straight Christians.
Christ is too wonderful a treasure, too rich a feast to limit himself or be limited to straight people.
Christianity is a relationship, not a cultural statement.  God will call Christians to be salt and light and sweetness in every area of society, among the rich and among the poor; among the highly educated intelligentsia, and those who follow the crowd;  among conservatives and among liberals; among the gay and among the straight.
                                               * * *
So what stand would Jesus take on gay marriage, and gay ordination, these schismatic issues?  We don’t know, but we can surmise from the four loving detailed biographies we have of him.
Above all things, he hated hypocrisy. He hated self-righteousness and holier-than-thouness. He opposed the unthinking group mind. When the Pharisees of his day all clung together, clucking their tongues, Jesus was on the outside with the least and the last.
And these were the people he sided with, reached out to, spent his time with: Zacchaeus, who was notoriously dishonest. A woman caught in adultery. A woman who had led a sinful life. A woman who had been serially married and now lived “in sin”. A hot-tempered, violent Peter. A friend of prostitutes and sinners, he was called.
And if he met a gay man or woman? He would have preached the gospel to him, as he would to anyone else. He would have loved them, overwhelmingly. And they might in response have adopted traditional marriage. Or perhaps, might not have. That is between them, Jesus, and his Spirit.
Being is a Christians is not about making gay people straight or picketing abortion clinics or defending the intent of the American Founding Fathers or American values.
It is about a relationship with a person. A relationship which turned the world upside down in the first century (Acts 17:6) and will, infallibly turn our world upside down if we let it have its way with us. 
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A Poem by an Algerian Believer


 

English: Photo of railings and scenery of Moun...

English: Photo of railings and scenery of Mount Huangshan. It is customary to ‘lock your soul’ together by clasping the padlock (often with a personal engraving) on to a permanent structure, such as the metal railing and then to throw the key over the edge of the cliff into the misty valleys below (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

“He Inhabited the Depth of My Heart”

 

I beheld his light from afar
from behind the mountains, from behind the horizon.
He arose like the light of the radiant morning filled with joy.
He arose within my soul so filled with darkness,
my lost and confused soul, my soul that did not know the meaning of rest.
Yet he visited me like the gentle breeze.
Like the fragrance emanates through the hills. He visited me …
He inhabited the depths of my heart and settled there within.
He filled my soul with purity, with life.
He is Jesus, the tender compassionate one Jesus,
the source of my joy Jesus, the anchor of my soul.
I adored him since I first met him, and have melted in passionate love for him.
And how could it be other-wise? For he has loved me from days of old.

 

Anonymous

 

Nobody Likes A Bully


If you are Gay, you should not be bullied or attacked for your sexual orientation.  I know you don’t buy into that “Hate the sin but love the sinner crap”, and I don’t blame you. I’m ashamed of how some of my fellow Christians treat you.

As followers of Christ,  we should not feel

Little Greece encouraged by Europe bullies Turkey

Little Greece encouraged by Europe bullies Turkey

bullied into denying that same sex “sex” is treated differently in the Scriptures. I also don’t like the assumption that it’s easy for Christians to ignore some pretty strong language in our Bible when it comes to same sex “sex”. We feel like we’re being railroaded into denying our Scriptures, and for many of us, the Scriptures have a powerful impact on our lives. We can’t just blow the Bible off like that.

People from both sides deserve to say, “You just don’t understand”, and have the other side listen without fear of attack.

Our Holy Books are intended to give us direction in life. We believe they are instructions from God! People outside our faith simply can’t understand their importance to us.  Now, I realize that you watch all of us Christians following  Jesus imperfectly and it drives you to criticize us.  We don’t follow the Scriptures well and you wonder, why on earth are those few verses about same sex in there in the first place and why do we act like they are so terribly important?  That’s a good question, frankly, and its okay to ask.

I think a lot of us are in a quandary about those verses. We wonder why they are specifically mentioned over and over…while the rape of wives and daughters isn’t always condemned or called, “wicked” or an “abomination”.

It is easier to look at people and judge their behavior in a black and white way called, “legalism”,  seeking to obey the words of the Bible literally as much as possible , than it is to seek their deeper meaning and their intent. When Jesus comes along and says that love for God and our neighbor is most important, that’s harder to measure. That’s putting God first in our daily life and neighbor second. Who of us is putting God above all else? Let him/her who is without sin cast the first stone, as Jesus famously said!

None of my current ‘best’ friends are Gay or Lesbian, but I have a “history”.  Four of my mother’s best friends were female couples who lived together.  They were “different” in the time before there was a name for women who wore “man pants”, no make-up, had man hair cuts, and were self-sufficient around the house “like a man”.

Inexplicably, the Mayor of our small, conservative, Western Pennsylvania town, HB, was just such a woman.  She lived with her partner, a local hairdresser.  I spent a lot of time over at their place, begging for rides on HB’s elegant, Pinto pony, inelegantly named, Spot.

The Mayor rode Spot at the head of the local fair parade each September, dressed to the hilt in her cowboy regalia: Fancy fringed jacket, cowboy boots and a big white cowboy hat.  Spot would rise to the occasion, even into very old age, prancing down the street flashing with silver and black tack that matched HB’s Western outfit. What a thrilling sight!

I loved visiting these friends and another couple in town, widows with a similar lifestyle. Some of my happiest childhood memories were in their homes where laughter and affirmation made me feel like the most special little girl on earth. One of these friends taught me to drive, “like a NYC cab driver”, in her beautiful Chevy Impala.

Mom was divorced in an era when divorced women were gossiped about much as these women were for being “different”, outside the norm. Were we friends with them because other people shut us out? I wonder.

I know that some people felt concern for me, and questioned mom about the wisdom of my spending time around “such people”. This only raised my mother’s umbrage and led to a little talk with me about small-minded people.

I don’t buy the argument about accepting Gay people because we all have them in our lives. There is something hollow about this, and frankly I believe our Scriptures deserve better than this.

As I read the Scripture verses that come down harshly on same sex sex, and at the same time read Jesus’ words about love I hold both up to a God who loves and I confess that I’m confused.  It is beyond my understanding. I honestly wish the harsh words weren’t in the Bible at all. I don’t understand why gang rape and other rapes aren’t condemned as “abominations” also.

But, I also love that God is beyond my understanding, and I feel pretty sure of this, He might love bullies, but I’ll bet He doesn’t like their behavior.

The following links will give several perspectives on Scripture and Homosexuality.

.

Voice of the Martyrs’ Tom White’s Death a Sad and Lonely End


Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, miniatu...

Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, miniature, Hitda-Codex, Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek, cod. 1640, fol. 171 References: Anna Maria Cetto: Mittelalterliche Miniaturen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tom White, Executive Director of the Christian Organization, Voice of the Martyrs, was accused of allegedly molesting a 10 year old girl and recently died of apparent suicide.

What a tragic end to the life of a man who had spent his years bringing attention to the poor, the abused, the neglected. We sorrow for the family, the child, the legacy.

“Who among you dares to cast the first stone?” That’s the question Jesus asked when the Pharisees were so eager to condemn a woman caught in adultery.

Here’s the situation quoted directly from our Holy Book: King James Version

“And early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them

“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto Him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the Law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest Thou?”

“This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him.”

“But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not. So when they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.”

“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

“When Jesus had lifted up Himself, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?”

“She said, No man, Lord.”

“And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

It is a horrible thing to molest and abuse a child, of course. I think Jesus would call it a sin.

A sin is anything that separates us from God.

But, Christians tend to feel squeamish talking to each other about their sins. It’s hard enough to admit wrong, and say we’re sorry, let alone own up to “sins”.

We also tend to put people on pedestals: Political figures, Popular media stars, Pastors…Leaders of Christian organizations…failing to demand accountability from them.

If we identify as Christians then we align ourselves with a set of standards which are clear but never perfectly observed. Ironically,  though, anyone watching us from “outside” the Church can and often will, quickly point out when we deviate from these standards, it is rather uncool to do this within the Church. It should be just the opposite.

This shouldn’t be such a huge deal, because we have something in our lives called “Grace”, but it is often difficult to give to others.

Sometimes the Christian Community makes it difficult to be honest about our weaknesses. So we deal with our them in a number of ways. Two extremes might be…

We give up trying to live a life of faith…or act as if we are fine on the surface, while painfully struggling with problems desperately working to hide them with good works.

Because a small child helplessly suffers molestation by a grown-up, we see this type of abuse as worse than some others.

But, we may abuse and ruin people’s lives by the words we speak, the policies we embrace, the choices we make in our daily lives.

If Tom White was guilty, I hope he shared his mess with someone. Jesus makes it clear that we have company in our mess.  No one is “without sin” and we can open ourselves to Jesus who does not condemn us.  I’m sad that Tom White felt that the only way through his pain was suicide. What a lonely end.

Voice of the Martyrs’ Tom White’s Death an Apparent Suicide Following Molestation Investigation | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

why i hate religion, but love jesus || spoken word | chiselseason.com


I like this guy and his message, though he slips up once, because he mentions Christianity which IS a religion… Isn’t it?

His point is clear enough.

why i hate religion, but love jesus || spoken word | chiselseason.com.

What Kind of America Do You Want?


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 24JAN08 - Bono, Musician, D...
Fighting poverty in Kenya

Image by Gates Foundation via Flickr

I’m following a real time philosophical debate which has already polarized many in the Christian community, especially since the 2008 Presidential campaign.

Here’s the background:

In our Holy Book, The Bible, followers of Christ are urged to “pray for our government so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all dignity and godliness” (I Timothy. 2:2).

But what does that really mean?

I looked for a simple definition of godliness and an example of living out our lives in dignity, peace and godliness, here’s the one I chose.

Jerry Bridges in his book, “The Practice of Godliness“, identifies godliness as a “personal attitude towards God resulting in actions that are pleasing to God”.  In my opinion, for a follower of Jesus, devotion to doing what pleases God requires more than just a subjective feeling of well being, but rather an objective knowledge of God’s revealed pleasure.That’s where reading the Bible as revelation comes in.

You can read more from Jerry’s book below.

http://books.google.com/books?id=GWrEtMpVcr4C&pg=PT115&lpg=PT115&dq=godliness+and+justice&source=bl&ots=JmWnbhDZnI&sig=9KCd4JYGnpDqdvbM3s2QJ8gUUok&hl=en&ei=wFTWToX6NMrj0QHryaShAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=godliness%20and%20justice&f=false

The current debate centers around the role of Government today:  Is America responsible for helping the poor in our country and the world with Federally Funded Social Programs, or is this the role of the Church and individual followers of Christ? What is God’s pleasure in this issue?

You can begin to follow the debate here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thedebateblog/2011/11/hello-world/

I have two problems with depending on the Church to care for the needs of the poor.

I see much resistance and prejudice towards large segments of society, putting limits on God’s heart for diverse people; The modern day history of the Church does not bode well for “caring more for the needs of others rather than ourselves.”

I have heard many, many North American Christians say it is their duty to look out first for their family which includes quite a long list of things: Christian education, safe schools, saving for college, a nice home, a safe car, a good community etc. before they can care for others. They are willing to give some money to “help” the poor, or even go on a mission trip “far away”, but they are not willing for the poor to intrude on their comforts.

In my experience, caring for the poor is exhausting and inconvenient and often painful. It is modeled for children by their parents. The church has a long way to catch up to our ancestors who founded the Salvation Army, Alcoholics Anonymous, abolished slavery, suffered during the Civil Rights Movement and many other works which benefited the poor.